Thursday, June 21, 2007

Wapusk 2007: mammals and invertebrates

Work in the field has come along nicely so far. Pitfall traps have been set up at a number of locations to capture insects. Pitfalls are basically a small plastic container, put into a hole in the ground, filled partially with non-toxic antifreeze (to drown and temporarily preserve whatever falls in them), and covered with a plywood square with nails – there’s a gap big enough so that an insect or spider can fit through, but not something as big as a ground squirrel. The plywood covers the trap so that other animals don’t drink or disturb it. So far, a variety of creatures have been caught. These range from spiders to flies to springtails and beetles. We try to capture anything we see (that typically doesn’t have a backbone) as we are visiting our sites, by net or using good ‘ol fingers.

I’ve had the opportunity to visit a number of different locations around Churchill to set these traps up. It’s been a great way to explore the different habitats around the area. The scenery can range from a boreal forest to swamp, open tundra, flat rock, or sandy beach. It’s so nice to be out in the field, even if it’s not the ideal day to spend outside. The weather can change quite dramatically with Churchill being on a water body as large as the Hudson Bay. There’s quite a bit of work to be done now with collecting from these traps, processing them, and eventually putting them into a database. The rapidly growing database currently consists of over 200 vials. A single vial may contain many specimens of similar classification (e.g. spiders in one, flies in another). It’s good to be busy, as always.

Tuesday was a beautiful day to be outside, sunny and warm all day long. I was actually in a t-shirt for part of it. The entire day was spent pretty much outside in the field, collecting and setting up traps. After work, a long and exhilarating ATV ride along the beach/tundra with Leonard and Janine during sunset was the perfect end to the day. I was given some Caribou antlers from Leonard as well, but the catch is that the head is still attached… and has been on top of his roof for the past two years. No doubt, I need to remove the skin and clean the skull before it can come indoors. Now, I have something real instead of a puppet (Bruce the Moose) to hang on the wall!

A professor from the University of Manitoba, Rob Roughley, came up for a few days to set up some malaise traps with some of his colleagues. Malaise traps are mesh tent-like traps that are designed to capture flying insects. I tagged along with those guys during their stay to observe malaise trap construction, and to set up pitfalls for our own research, nearby. Some of those roads that go to the sites are in rough shape – chugging along logger-type roads in a very old bruiser truck (that belongs to the Churchill Northern Studies Centre), all us researchers have pushed through mud, water, and giant potholes. No shocks for the thing, and city drivers behind the wheel have made it quite the ride at times!

I’ve acquired some beautiful custom and hand-made/beaded mitts, made by a local craftswoman. The inside of them is sheepskin, and the outside is made of caribou hide, arctic hare fur, and sealskin. The beadwork fashions a polar bear walking on ice, with a sun above it. The mitts are very special, and will be perfect for cold winter days.

Writing this blog/update, carefully uploading my pictures complete with captions, and ATV rides were excellent procrastination against studying for my deferred final. I was relieved to get it over with on Tuesday evening, and happy to focus my attention to something other than mostly work and “Introduction to Aquatic Environments”.

A nice reward was that I’m taking care of another colleague’s dog, since I miss my animals at times. Smokey is a 6 month old Jack Russell. He’s a real sweetheart, and I was given an ATV to take him for walks with, while Leonard is gone (he’s got so much energy, that the ATV is the most efficient way to tire him out). Riding the ATV with little Smokey running alongside it is awesome. I even took Smokey to Leonard’s cabin at Goose Creek (about 15 km outside of Churchill) for a day/night by myself to chill. I really like Goose Creek with its peat fens, rugged boreal forest, its surrounding watershed and the even more relaxed atmosphere than town.

I’m going into Wapusk National Park for the first time on Monday. I just finished working ten days on, to get four days off. The four days off is part of the field preparation before going into the park. I will certainly write about my adventures in the Park afterwards – stay tuned!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Wapusk 2007: settling into the Northern Life

Yet more training has occurred at work. This has included stuff that ranged from harassment in the workplace to library guidelines, informal conflict management in the workplace, and radio protocols. The highlight of training was shooting a Remington marine magnum shotgun on the firing range as part of my Parks Canada firearms training course. It was exciting, although those suckers have a bit of a kick to them… at least for me. (My arms are a bit short for the barrel length)

Every Friday there is a meat draw at the local legion (bar). Basically, people drink and submit a ticket to win a whole lot of meat. It’s good fun just to hang out with colleagues, play pool, listen to the jukebox, etc. The Seaport bar in town isn’t bad either. However, with the way things are in Churchill, they don’t serve limes … Coronas are just not the same without limes!

I ate a Canada goose for the first time on Saturday for dinner with some friends. It was cooked over a beer can on the bbq, shot and plucked by Greg (colleague) - tougher meat, but tasty! I imagine that I will be trying some other more or less routine foods this summer based on the variety of animal life out there.

Mom arrived by plane on Sunday, and took the long train ride back to Winnipeg on Thursday. I enjoyed the walks along the tundra with her, and the yummy food and baked stuff she prepared. Can you tell that I appreciate my food?

Interesting thing about Churchill is that there is a curfew bell at 10pm every night – not that we have to be inside by that time or anything, but it’s commonly confused to be a polar bear siren by newcomers. The funny thing is that it makes all the dogs in town howl for at least a minute afterwards. There isn’t any polar bear siren… just cracker shells being shot off in the distance. The ice has broken up quite a bit on the Hudson Bay, and I expect it won’t be long until I get to see my first live polar bear.

The primary mode of getting around in town is by ATV or truck. It’s not uncommon to ride an ATV to work or to the grocery store. Leonard (colleague) lent me his ATV to use for a bit. It’s a thrill to ride it around town and along the Flats (floodplains along the river where people have built shacks). ATV’s can go surprisingly fast (up to 100km/hr) and with me, the speed demon, you can imagine any passengers holding on for dear life! Note that I haven’t tested the upper limits of speed on it, at least not without a helmet…